Unexpected but Welcomed

Dec 1st  |  The Reverend Kevin Scott Fleming |  Jeremiah 33:14-16

Even though many of us are still eating Thanksgiving leftovers and have yet to reach their fill of football, time is moving on.  When I was in seminary, a group of us went to a wonderful Roman Catholic congregation for the First Sunday in Advent.  Before the service began, the priest chanted the entire calendar of the liturgical year.  The point was that the First Sunday in Advent is the beginning of the church’s new year of worship. 

 

Advent is (for some) a little frustrating.   The very nature of the season is anticipation and expectation.  The season asks us to wait – to be patient – to watch and keep one’s eyes open. 

 

And therein is the frustration.  We are people with no time to wait.  We like things to be done instantaneously.  We get frustrated when we have to wait in line in stores and at Starbucks.  We get upset when the Amazon package is not at our house on the date promised.  We blow a gasket when we stop for the dry cleaning at 4:30, even though we know full well that they said it would be ready at 5:00.

 

We do not live in an age in which waiting is tolerated.  Anticipation and expectation has a five minute shelf life.  When the microwave “dings,” the food had better be ready. 

 

So, you can see the problem we have with Advent.  We want it to be December 25th right now and we don’t give a jingling jingle bell that its only December 1.  Advent, for those in Evansville, is like another stop light on any major thruway.  Don’t make me wait!

 

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

 

The prophet Jeremiah was called to service at a particularly difficult time in Judah’s history.  For centuries, the leaders of the people had slowly separated themselves from the way of God.  The worship of idols, the rampant injustice practiced by the elite, the oppression of the poor, the neglect of the land – any of this sounding familiar? – all of it had been flung into God’s face.  And God finally withdrew God’s divine favor and protection from the people.

 

Jeremiah speaks his message from a prison cell.  He had spoken truth to power – confronted the king – told the king exactly what would happen if he and his cronies continued on their path.  Jeremiah watched as the Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem for over a year.  Jeremiah saw the king and the elite leaders of Judah taken into exile in Babylon.  Jeremiah saw a city that was starving, with insufficient water, and rising rates of disease and sickness.

 

Through what must have been his tears, Jeremiah cries out to God to do something – to intervene – to save.  But God seems silent.  God seems distant.  God seems disinterested. 

 

But then, unexpectedly, the Word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah.

 

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

 

God will not let the people languish.  God will not abandon.  God will not forsake.  God will restore. 

 

Now, there is something we have to address.  We Christians hear the promise of “a righteous Branch, springing up for David,” and we immediately jump to talking about Jesus.  We have been taught – quite in error – that the Old Testament (note how we label it) is there to point to Jesus (whose story is recounted in the New Testament).  We have for too long believed that the “Old” Testament’s relevance and worth is only inasmuch as it points to Jesus.

 

With the rise of anti-Semitic language and actions over the last three years, we can no longer allow ourselves to lessen the message of God to the ancient people of Israel and Judah, while elevating a theological misunderstanding and a school of misinterpretation by Christians to erase any meaning of the prophets to their own people to their own time, in their own situation.

 

Long before Jesus was ever born, God promised to be a redeemer, a savior, a rescuer.  Long before Jesus was ever born, God promised to restore, to bring back, to reinstate Israel and Judah as God’s own people. 

 

This is God’s essential nature.  God is the restorer of the dispossessed – the comforter of the broken-hearted – the healer of the broken in spirit.  God is the One who takes our necks out of the noose.  God is the One who lifts us from our misery.  God is the One who puts our feet back on the pathway of life. 

 

This is true for the Jew, the Muslim, and the Christian.  All of us, in our unique way, speak of God as the One who lifts our life from the pit.  All of us, in our unique way, confess God to be merciful, kind, and forgiving.  All of us believe that God is the restorer of hope and the repairer of the breach. 

 

This branch that will spring up will “execute justice and righteousness in the land.”  Because we are Christians and steeped in that tradition, we see God doing that in the person of Jesus Christ.  We hear Jeremiah’s words:

 

…he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

 

We see the word “saved” and are reminded that in Hebrew that word is yasha.  We also remember that the name “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Yeshua, which is a variation on that word yasha, which makes it “God saves.”  Here is God’s essential nature.  “God saves.”  “God rescues.”  “God redeems.”  God makes new.

 

And notice, please, that Jeremiah does not see that happening right away.  “He shall execute justice and righteousness…in those days Judah will be saved…in those days Jerusalem will live in safety.”  Future tense.  Not immediate.  Someday.  Not necessarily today. 

 

And for this reason we wait.  We experience a sense of longing.  We wait hope for – we count the days until.  We enter into a season of expectation. 

 

And God will break in when we least expect it.  God will surprise us and astound us.  God will establish justice and righteousness in the land and all people will live in safety and in joy.

 

And we will welcome it.  For now and evermore.  Amen.